Jan 10, 2023 - Politics

New laws on sexual assault go into effect

Illustration of the Illinois State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Illinois activated new laws this month expanding protections for victims of sexual assault who were intoxicated.

Why it matters: The rules set important new standards for what's considered sexual consent, but they were ushered in last week with more than 200 other laws — making them easy to miss.

Zoom in: The legislation says a person can't "give knowing consent" to a sexual act if intoxication has left them "unconscious of the nature of the act, and this condition was known or reasonably should have been known by the accused," even if "the accused did not provide or administer the intoxicating substance."

  • In other words: Even if someone is voluntarily drunk before a sexual assault, it doesn't change the consensuality of the act.

What they're saying: "It doesn't matter if you've had a beer, a shot or five — that's your choice. But the assault was not, and we will no longer tolerate a justice system that confuses the two," Gov. JB Pritzker said when signing the law last June.

Context: The bill was inspired by the experience of former Statehouse staffer Kaylyn Ahn, who was raped after she had been drinking in 2021. When she reported the crime, she says, law enforcement told her to move on because it probably wouldn't be prosecuted.

  • "I am telling my story because my pain is not an individual loss but a systemic failure of a legal system that has time and again failed to protect us," she said at the signing ceremony.

Meanwhile, further provisions of the bill double the time period for sexual assault survivors to access treatment from 90 to 180 days.

  • And it guarantees them access to medical professionals trained to treat victims of sexual trauma.

Of note: A law that makes a pandemic-era option for alleged victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to file orders of protection online became permanent this month.

  • And those accused of soliciting sex from minors with profound intellectual disabilities can no longer use a defense that they were unaware of their age or disabilities.

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